Honk if you want a contract
From the bed of a shiny, red pickup truck, union and civic leaders used bullhorns and song to “call out” Enloe Medical Center for what picketers say is foot-dragging in labor negotiations.
On Jan. 16, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Enloe Medical Center workers and their union-affiliated supporters rallied across the street from the hospital on The Esplanade. The expiration of the California Nurses Association’s contract on Jan. 14 meant nurses could picket, and picket they did, even getting Chico’s mayor to join the cause.
As speakers called on Enloe to negotiate, their words were punctuated by the supportive honks of passing drivers. From the truck bed, teacher Mark Gailey strummed a guitar and joined his RN wife Cynthia Hill in song.
Ann Prater, Enloe’s head of public relations, called the assembly, along with an event two days prior, “really quite small,” with at most 100 participants, including children and people who don’t work at Enloe.
“It’s sad to see that kind of disturbance,” she said. “Every horn that honks, a patient hears.”
Headlining the event was Chico’s mayor, Scott Gruendl, who was the loudest and most exuberant speaker. He said the hospital is the city’s largest private employer, and, “Enloe should begin to treat you with the respect that you deserve so you can be a huger part of our economy.
“I support you 110 percent,” said Gruendl, raising a fist to the air. “Let’s get Enloe to the bargaining table.”
The leaders of the Chico Unified Teachers’ Association, Chico State’s California Faculty Association (CFA) and California State Employees Association (CSEA), and other unions also took the stage, as did City Councilman Andy Holcombe.
The president of Chico State’s chapter of the CFA, Susan Green, said it’s time for unions to stick together. “This is a very difficult time for labor,” she said, and Enloe’s stance is “an affront to our community.”
CUTA President George Young urged Enloe workers to “fight the good fight.”
“We all want to be partners in our profession, not pawns.”
Carol Linscheid, head of human resources for Enloe, said that at the bargaining table, things aren’t as bad as they seem.
“We were far apart … but we were getting closer,” Linscheid said of the sides’ most-recent bargaining session last week. “We were chipping away at our process when the contract ran out.”
Both sides agreed to bring in a federal mediator as they debate raises, retiree health benefits, staffing ratios and when nurses should “float” to other areas outside of their primary expertise.
The CNA refused the hospital’s request to extend the contract for a month while negotiations continue, which means they can’t be barred from picketing, but it also means the union will have to directly solicit its dues of about $80 a month, since Enloe doesn’t have to withhold the money from paychecks without a contract in place.
The CNA’s issues overlapped those of the SEIU, which actually had a stronger presence at the event.
Several speakers at the rally said Enloe was not complying with the spirit of federal law by continuing to challenge the results of a close 2003 union election, and refusing to negotiate with the SEIU-UHW West while appealing the National Labor Relations Board’s certification to National District Court in Washington, D.C.
Mickey Harrington, who heads the local International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), compared Enloe to large corporations and suggested that members of local unions might consider a boycott of Enloe’s services. “They’re acting like they’re Wal-Mart.”
Tom Reed of the Butte County Healthcare Coalition said negotiations for both unions are “very much the business of the community.”
“It brings back memories of 30 years ago. Nurses were on strike, the hospital broke the union, broke the strike. [There were] tears of exasperation,” he said. “That’s not going to happen again.”